Q+A: Idris Elba - Features - Mixmag

Q+A: Idris Elba

In recent years, Hollywood A-lister Idris Elba has turned his hand to DJing at some of the world’s biggest clubs and festivals

  • Sean Griffiths
  • 24 June 2016
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You grew up in Hackney. What were your early clubbing experiences in London like?

I used to go to a lot of jungle raves like Jungle Fever and Roast. Jungle was my first real raving experience. I’d go to The Fridge sometimes to see Tim Westwood play, and then a little bit later, when I was about 17 or 18 and I’d started DJing, I’d got to more reggae and r’n’b clubs in Hackney like Shenola and Oasis.

What did you play back then?

I used to be in a soundsystem. I was the r’n’b and upfront guy in the soundsystem. I used to play r’n’b, swing, hip hop – a lot of American import stuff like Run DMC and KRS-One. Then when I was about 19 or 20 I started to play a bit more house and jungle.

What were your ‘rescue the dancefloor’ records back then?

‘Apparently Nothing’ by The Young Disciples, ‘So You Like’ by Samuel – I always used to play that. And anything by Biggie Smalls used to go off. Even really early Biggie went off. And ‘Cross The Track (We Better Go Back)’ by Maceo. There were one or two staples that you always knew would work.

You’ve started a project called Hiatus...

Yeah, very cleverly titled as you can see! I’ve done a couple of mixtapes and EPs before, I’ve done the Mandela album and the Luther album, but this is the first thing where I’m concentrating on house music. This is geared towards me as a DJ. The idea is I want to take a whole year out of acting and do a worldwide DJ tour and ‘Hiatus’ will be the record that supports that. The idea is to do an EP first and then the album will come out.

And you’re working with Pete Tong on this?

Yeah, Pete did a re-edit on a tune called ‘Spectacle’ that I’m going to drop very soon [on Mixmag’s Apple Music]. It’s a big tune, man! I just played it at Snowbombing and it went down really well.

Where did the idea of doing the Mandela and Luther albums come from?

I’m always trying to figure out ways I can express myself musically. When I’m acting, I really step into the character and if I can add a musical edge to that, I think it deepens the experience. For the audience, I think it deepens things if they can watch the film and then listen to ‘Mi Mandela’ too, then watch the documentary of me making the album.

You’ve played real-life figures like Nelson Mandela before, but is there anyone from the world of music you’d like to play?

Thelonious Monk. He was a legendary jazz musician. When jazz was popular in the early 50s, Monk came along and just did something weird with it and everyone was like, ‘he’s a bit odd’. He had mental health issues he didn’t realise he had for a long time, but he was an absolute genius because he just came in and broke all the rules. He was kind of like the Skrillex of his day. You know when Sonny came out and just DJ’d a different way to everyone else? When he’s nutting it out playing a bit of d’n’b, a bit of dubstep and everyone’s going ‘what the front door?’ Monk was a bit like that. I’m interested in the idea of someone battling mental health but being able to express himself with music. You know, the last ten years of his life, he never touched a piano again.

Idris Elba plays Eastern Electrics on August 6

Sean Griffiths is Mixmag's News Editor, follow him on Twitter

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